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The incredible marine terraces of Punta Maisi - a rare wonder and unseen paradise

Located right at the easternmost tip of the island, Punta Maisi's claim to fame goes beyond being one of the country's "two ends" but also houses unique geological formations that are a wonder to discover and a rare sight very few have had the privilege to witness first-hand. Yet, getting here is not impossible and if you ask around you might be able to arrange a guided excursion taking you through the marine terraces' many remarkable. Remember, we told first!

The incredible marine terraces of Punta Maisi - a rare wonder and unseen paradise

Punta Maisi (also referred to as Punta de Maisi) is a municipality and town in Cuba’s easternmost province of Guantanamo that’s famous to being at the “end of the world”, or, more precisely “the end of Cuba”. It’s actually considered one of two of the island “ends”, with the other being the westernmost point of Cabo de San Antonio, in the province of Pinar del Rio.

Many national tourists make it to Punta Maisi to stand at the very tip (or “end”) of the island and look out over the Caribbean Sea and possibly spot on a clear day (the use of binoculars might help) the nearby shores of Haiti, located some 70 km east and southeast.

It’s rare to see a tourist venturing this far off-the-beaten-path as many might deem the journey here not worth it of their time, or indeed most don’t even know of its existence. Despite the slight increase in foreign visitor numbers to this less trodden part of Cuba, especially to the nearby town of Baracoa (which is gaining popularity for its many peculiarities and the fairy-tale mysticism that surrounds it), Punta Maisi continues to be a virtually unheard of tourist destination, even when found just one-hour ride away.

But it’s about time the world turned its attention to it, especially when it is home to one of the planet’s best-preserved ecosystems of marine terraces, an awe-inspiring landscape that remains virginal and pristine, completely free of tourist crowds. This stunning gem deserves to be talked about and celebrated as one of the most beautiful naturally-occurring phenomenon in Cuba, one only a few privileged adventurers have discovered. It’s about time that changed - take this as my words of encouragement to making the journey here. I myself would relish the opportunity, and indeed plan to make a trip here as soon as I can. Watch this space, because I plan to document my experience.

Previously, an off-limits military zone, Punta de Maisi has recently been opened up to visitors with organized day tours to the lighthouse, camping options and the building of a new hotel which opened last year. Now there aren’t any excuses not to go! Not anymore.

Punta Maisi - Cuba’s eastern tip

The Lighthouse

Beyond being Cuba’s easternmost point, Punta Maisi is known for its lighthouse “La Concha”, which is another landmark in its own right. Dating all the way back to 1861, you can climb its steps to get all the way to the top and drink in the most amazing views over the Caribbean Sea. Like I said earlier, on a clear day you may be able to spot Haiti

Its construction was ordered in 1856 by the Queen of Spain in times when Cuba was still a Spanish colony. It took five years to build and was bestowed the name “Faro de Concha” during its opening ceremony in 1862.

The lighthouse’s purpose, like that of many others that soon followed all around the island, was to guide ships to a safe port and help sailing vessels in trouble through the emission maritime signals and lights. Soon after it was in place Spanish migrants made their way to Punta Maisi and settled here, making a living from the creation of solar coffee dryers and the setting up of a factory that dried slices ripe bananas to create and sell the dried fruit (in a similar way grapes are dried to create raisins and in dried plums become prunes).

The lighthouse at Punta de Maisi rises over 37. 2 meters and is made of locally sourced stone, extracted from the region’s coastal area. It was erected at the top of a raised beach, in an area famous for the colossal marine terraces that make a U-shape and extend all the way from Punta de Maisi to Baracoa Bay (Bahia de Baracoa) - that’s a distance of over 60 kilometers of dramatic marine terraces - quite a sight I assure you! The lighthouse’s bright white light has a reach of 32.8 km and coming here at night makes for some spectacular pictures.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, despite being in the Guantanamo province, Punta de Maisi it’s nowhere near the U.S.-held Guantanamo Bay Naval Base and Detention Camp, which lies some 140 kilometers away (a two-hour drive approximately) and which is, as can be expected, completely off-limits to everyone that’s not a U.S. official with granted access. Just as well, you’re not missing out on anything, there’s nothing pretty to see here, at least not until they remove the ghastly prison famous for repeated allegations of human rights violations. Maybe one day they will return this part of Cuban mainland to Cuba, pack up and go... One can dream and hope.

The marine terraces

The perched coastline of Punta Maisi consists of no less than 24 emergent coastal landforms, raised above sea level like imposing, sleepy giants. These colossal elevated platforms are mostly flat at the top and are the result of tectonic coastal fluctuations over thousands of years. Some rise as high as 460 meters above sea level, while beneath the surface some go as deep as 180 meters. Yes, because Punta Maisi’s impressive geological landscape has both, emerged and submerged marine terraces, making for some stunning photographs you will want to show off to friends.

The terraces narrate the story of the planet´s evolution in this part of the world, as the shapes they take show how tectonic movements have impacted the landscape. Upon closer inspection and analysis, such movements were more intense in Cuba´s eastern region during the Quaternary Period. It´s not by coincidence that this is the only part of the island that has suffered earthquakes.

The result of the sea´s erosive effect as it beats on the rocks repeatedly has ground it down and filed it to the point of creating these gigantic grazed platforms.

Summed up in a line like the above, the making off marine terraces simple enough but this is a lengthy process takes place over thousands of years. That´s how long it took for Punta Maisi´s marine terraces to achieve their jaw-dropping, geometrically stepped look.

Called raised beach, coastal terrace or marine terrace, regardless of the name you give it, few in the world are as beautiful as these.

Going for a dip

To finish off the sightseeing excursion after climbing the lighthouse and snapping away at the impressive coastal rock formations, what better than to go for a cooling dip in the beach facing them? The soft white sands are as inviting as they are soft and the waters as crystalline as they look. A great place to wind down in an idyllic paradisical setting, where more likely than not you´ll be the only person there, or at least one among a handful. From then on you can walk for miles and miles to admire the rocks that dot the coastline. If you´re lucky and come when the tide is low, the submerged marines will be even more visible. If not, you can always don snorkelling gear and inspect them from down-below.

Pozo Azul - Punta Maisi’s best-kept secret

One of the least talked about and less-visited places in Punta Maisi (unless you´re a local or know one in the town) is the area of Pozo Azul, a virtually unknown geographical feature found some 12 km of Punta Maisí and its lighthouse. Studies have concluded that Pozo Azul is a doline in the opening of a flooded cavern, a surreal-looking seascape surrounded by limestone and tempting visitors to dip into its deep, crystalline waters. This virginal beauty lies within the protected (but not managed, at least at the time of writing) Yumuri-Maisi area and it´s so off-the-beaten path no foreign tourists have ever been spotted here. It doesn´t appear on any tourist guide and if you ask most travel agencies they will tell you they either don´t know what you´re talking about or that they at present don´t offer organized excursions here. Because they don´t. At least not yet.

Locals do know of it, of course, and they share the secret with some of the adventurous national visitors that have enquired about exciting pursuits in the area. Such is the case of the CeroFallos team, who made it here in September 2015 and documented their visit with some stunning photographs. Their blog inspired me (and surprised me so much) I just had to share their experience with you.

Having been one of the very few visitors to access this natural attraction and later share their experience online, they explain that getting here is not easy nor straightforward. To get to Pozo Azul they had to undergo a long walking journey from the town of Sabano, passing through Mesa Abajo until reaching the area of Hondo. On the way, they had to descend down three of Maisi´s large marine terraces (which they describe as stunningly beautiful), at times using the help of makeshift ladders and rustic railings. But they were incredibly grateful for the rewarding views along the way and at the end of their journey.

Local life and culture

Maisi is more than the easternmost tip of Cuba, more than its lighthouse, and more than its marine terraces. Beyond its natural attractions and incredible geological treasures, there are warm people worth getting to know and a vibrant culture that has plenty to teach you about simpler, enriching ways of life.

This municipality has its fair share of mysticism, with stories about mysterious lights and places that have witnessed dark events. Locals earn a living mostly from fishing and hunting. Underwater fishing is part of the local culture while others hunt iguanas and hutias for food. Craft-makers comb the beaches to collect materials or discarded objects they might re-use. There is a man that lives in a cave and a group of Haitians that have set up camp here. Locals have even managed to grow black beans on the seemingly sterile calcite soil, referred to as “diente de perro” (dog´s tooth) and despite the scarcity of rain, the earth is good to them, it yields and bears them fruit. In short, this is a rare and captivating community to discover and you could be among the very first to do so. A word of advice if you plan on venturing this far - work on your Spanish skills or bring someone that can help translate to get the most out of the experience and interact with locals. It will transform the journey, for the better.

Getting There

Punta de Maisi is not a place known for its easy access. Getting here is tricky, cumbersome and requires local knowledge, so don´t even dream of just hiring a car and trying to follow a road map to get here (if you can ever get your hands on a reasonably recent and helpful map of this place!). Instead, you´re better off hiring a local to drive you around or booking an organized excursion from Baracoa. You can get there following two routes, both with its dangers given the area´s complex geological formations and rugged roads.

If you come from Playitas de Cajobabo you´ll take the coastal road that winds its way 51 kilometers northeast until reaching La Maquina. Getting as far as Jauco is easy enough with the road being in a relatively good condition, from this point on the road gets rougher.

Coming from Baracoa to La Maquina is a 55-kilometer-journey where the road is good all the way to Sabana and then starts getting rough in places from there to La Maquina. But don´t even think the hardships end when reaching La Maquina, as the latter is but the starting point of an even rougher journey, a 13-kilometer descending track to Punta de Maisi. You´re best off arriving in a 4x4, or, if you´ve got a thirst for thrills, on a bike. The journey is popular with cyclists so you won´t be alone.

Where to Stay

As remote as this part of Cuba, there is accommodation for tourists to be found, even when just a couple of years ago there was not even hotel to speak of. But last year a hotel opened in La Asuncion, a small village or hamlet, at the heart of the municipality of Maisi. This rural area is as charming as it is compellingly rough and simple. Its most notable structure, among other old constructions of historical value, is a building famous for being the narrowest in all of Cuba, rising over five floors and sitting tight with a depth of only two-meters-and-a-half. It sits right at the village´s centre and dates back to 1955. The building, by the way, just received a major overhaul, after being restored and refurbished last year.

If you´re based in the nearby city of Baracoa (another highlight on its own), there are a good number of homestay options, or “casas particulares”. As this is one very little trodden part of Cuba, you cannot expect the same standards of privately-owned accommodation that cities like Havana, Trinidad or Cienfuegos enjoy, but still there are nice homes to be found, perfectly enhanced by the warmth of these countryside-living locals, far removed from the hustles and bustles of Cuba´s largest cities.

AirBnB lists a good number of casas, very cheaply priced, with private rooms (sharing with the host in a house) starting at just 8 Euros per night *seriously!) or a whole apartment with prime sea views going for as little as 13 Euros per night - I kid you not! Most casas and private rooms are priced between 10 and 23 Euros per night, so even those are still an incredible bargain!

If you don’t want to travel an hour from Baracoa to Punta Maisi and back, and perhaps entertain the idea of lingering in Guantanamo a little longer to explore the heart of the capital, there are casas particulares starting from just 17 Euros per night and small boutique and budget hotels like Hotel Marti and the recently-built Hotel Faro de Maisi in La Asuncion, a 20-room property strategically placed in close proximity to the lighthouse and close to other attractions like cavern diving, trekking and wildlife spotting. There´s also Villa La Lupe, a three-star hotel in the heart of the eponymous capital of Guantanamo, which is found a two-hour-and-a-half ride away. That´s how big this eastern province is, and discovering its capital is another adventure of its own. For now, I leave you pondering on the undiscovered appeal of Punta de Maisi.

Susana Corona

Susana Corona

The islands' go-between

Having lived most of my life between Cuba and the UK and being half-raised in both island nations, I...

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